Trying to decide on the greatest Portland Trail Blazer of all time is an exercise in taste. As in, what do you look for when deciding greatness? Sustained performance? Clyde Drexler is probably your man. If championships are your end-all-be-all, Bill Walton is the likely choice.
But what if I told you that there was a member of the organization that had both the longevity AND was there for the 1977 championship run? Because there is, and he has my vote for the Blazer of all time.
Bill Schonely, come on down and be recognized.
Most people are familiar with the resume. NHL Hockey, the Seattle Pilots, and nearly the voice of the Seattle SuperSonics before getting the offer to become the voice of the Trail Blazers from Harry Glickman. But did you know that he was tasked by Glickman with putting together the radio network? He was - and he got out there and closed.
But it’s more than being a founding member. After all, Geoff Petrie is called the “orginal Blazer” and had a stellar career. Bill Schonely, 90 years young as of Saturday, was THE voice of the Blazers for two generations of fans. I have a story exactly like thousands of other fans. It sounds cliche but, growing up in Yamhill County, I would pop my radio on at bedtime and listen to the Schonz call the action from the late 80s through the mid 90s. The players came and went, but Schonely was always there for me.
And he’s been there through it all. From the inaugural season through 1998, and then since 2003, Schonely has been the voice, and then the face, of the Trail Blazers. If you go to a game, you can find him; suit freshly pressed, NBA championship ring on, ready to talk Blazers with anyone around.
While I was running sound for an episode of the Bald Faced Truth this April, John Canzano asked an in-studio Schonely if he would want to call one last game. I watched as Bill’s eyes lit up. He nodded, and then he said “No, my time has passed.” I didn’t believe him for a second. While he may have lost a few mph off his fastball, I would love to see Schonely call the first half of a regular season game during the teams 50th anniversary celebration next season. Hell, preseason would be good enough for me.
Schonely is now 90, and it’s been more than 20 years since he’s called a game. His catch phrases still ring familiar to Blazer fans - “You’ve got to make your free throws”, “Lickedy brindle up the middle”, and, of course, “Rip City.” And make no mistake, Schonely is the mayor of Rip City. The man who has been there since the beginning. The man who jokes that if the team is going to win another championship, they better hurry up - due to his advancing age.
The Trail Blazers have had some amazing players over the life of the franchise. But they haven’t had a more influential man in their organization than The Schonz.